Instead, he chose dry land.
It looks to have been a smart move as the 23-year-old approaches the end of a dream year which has brought a Premiership winners’ medal with Exeter and a first England cap last month.
Professional rugby is no picnic but there is the lung-bursting anguish of conceding a try after a 44-phase attack – as Exeter did to today’s opponents Leinster in a bruising Champions Cup defeat last week – and then there is the life-threatening experience of being tossed around in a fishing boat in a winter storm.
“Dad and uncle are both fishermen out at Teignmouth. I don’t know if it would have been a path I would have gone down if I hadn’t got the chance at Exeter. Mum always said it was too dangerous and it’s cold out there!” said Simmonds.
“I wanted to be a footballer when I was younger. Didn’t everyone? Rugby was second on my list until I was 13 or 14 but I got into the (Devon) county side and I started to concentrate on it.
“This year has just felt like a whirlwind for me. I made my Premiership debut in February, won the Premiership with the Chiefs in May and then played twice for England in the autumn.
“It has gone so quickly and I haven’t really had time to look back at the achievements. The next thing keeps coming – which is good.”
Let us briefly press the pause button for him. About that England experience. He had enjoyed a flying start to the club season with the Chiefs but, after only a handful of Premiership starts, it was still a big leap.
“I felt very nervous those first couple of days with England,” he said. “The only rugby environment I’d been in before had been Exeter and on loan at (Cornish) Pirates and Plymouth. I hadn’t been involved in any England age group sides before and I only knew Henry Slade and Harry Williams.
“There were players around me who I’d been watching on TV a couple of years ago and who’d been with the Lions, so it was pretty surreal but the players and coaches made it an environment that was easy for me to get used to.”
He settled in well enough to be handed his debut off the bench against Australia, after which came the ritual of the debutant’s song traditionally delivered on the team bus.
“I did it at the wrong time I think,” he said. “Sladey asked me if I had my song ready in the changing rooms and I assumed he meant to do it there but it got it out of the way which was a bonus. I did ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ to get everyone else singing.”
The next week brought his first start for England against Samoa.
“It was great to make my debut but it’s not until you get that first start and you’re able to show what you can do on the field and actually play a bit of rugby that you feel a lot more involved in it all,” he said.
Eddie Jones was impressed with what he saw but with a caveat. At 16st Simmonds was not heavy enough for the England coach’s liking. “The Cornish pasties clearly aren’t working,” observed Jones.
“I think it was a little joke,” said Simmonds. “They do want me to put on a bit more weight but it’s only a couple of kilos to work towards over a couple of months. In the past I have been heavier but the weight has dropped off as I have played.”
There is a balance to be struck here.
Simmonds’ can play anywhere in the back row but his point of difference as a No8 – his favoured position – is his pace and footwork. There is no benefit in him becoming a lumbering behemoth.
After a fortnight as an impact substitute, he is back in the Exeter starting jersey today and on a revenge mission against a formidable Leinster side today after the loss of the Chiefs’ year-long unbeaten home record last weekend.
“It’s almost an international playing a side like Leinster – we know the challenge that faces us – but it’s about letting it all out this week like we did against Montpellier. That was an Exeter Chiefs performance. We didn’t just contain the team we were playing; we blew them away. That’s what we’ve got to do against Leinster,” he said.
“We know how they play after playing them and it’s up to us to put in a really strong Exeter Chiefs performance. If we do that the result will take care of itself.”
Source : EXPRESS